This, after all, is where we find concise descriptions of adaptive learning technologies (learning opportunities programmed to respond and adapt in an apparently personal way to an individual learner’s progress, performance, and unmet learning needs) and the Internet of Things (automated tracking and control of objects within our world) discussed within a four- to five-year time-to-adoption horizon.
We would even be well-justified in approaching these developments—particularly adaptive learning technology as part of a larger movement toward new levels of personalized learning—with a great deal of skepticism. We have, after all, seen well-intentioned colleagues in instructional design create asynchronous online learning modules that appear to offer learners different learning paths with personalized responses based on learners’ choices, only to discover in the worst of cases that the “different” paths all lead to one generic screen of feedback that is so broad as to be meaningless—particularly if a curious learner works his or her way back through a lesson and sees that the various allegedly personalized and divergent pathways all lead to the same meaningless one-screen-serves-all response.
But this is not the world of adaptive learning technologies described within the Horizon Report. Here we really are seeing a well-documented “emergence of adaptive learning technologies” reflecting “a movement in academia [and in other learning environments] towards customizing learning experiences for each individual” in meaningful ways (p. 44): if a learner is clearly mastering a topic, the adaptive programming advances the learner to an appropriately more-challenging set of problems or to the next topic to be studied, while a struggling learner is moved to different content that offers additional supportive learning opportunities to plug that person’s learning gaps.
The winning element in the best of these examples is that learning facilitators are encouraged to remain integrally involved in the design and use of this technology to the benefit of the learners they serve; those trainer-teacher-learners understand that adaptive learning “is best suited to take place in hybrid and online learning environments” (p. 44), Report co-authors Samantha Adams Becker, Alex Freeman, and Victoria Estrada note.
The authors of the Tyton Partners “Case for Accelerating Adaptive Learning” conclude their white paper with comments providing a fair assessment of where we remain for the moment: “…adaptive learning applications…still remain long on promise, and we must start where we are. But we are already somewhere quite interesting…fostering more personalized collaboration among students and with instructors by virtue of new tools and new data that promise to bring the power of learning to more learners more effectively and more efficiently than ever before” (p. 16). If trainer-teacher-learners collaborate to drive the process in ways that focus on learners rather than putting the tech tools at the center of the learning process, this remains a world well worth exploring, as we see in a brief video produced by Knewton, an accelerated-learning vendor.
When we turn our attention to the “no longer far-fetched” world of the Internet of Things/The Internet of Everything, we find ourselves in “a world where all people, objects, and devices are connected to act in concert, regardless of brand or vendor” (Horizon Report, p. 46). Our New Media Consortium guides, in this instance, write about how this technology provides the potential for learners to “carry connected devices with them” so they can “benefit from a host of interdisciplinary information that is pushed to them from their surroundings” and to “create an environment where learners are informed by crowdsourced contributions and observations from the community via networked objects” (p. 47). Examples of the Internet of Things in action within learning settings include those fostered by the University of Wisconsin-Madison Internet of Things Lab, which features hands-on experimentation by learners, and efforts by University of Pennsylvania students to engage in product development.
If we engage in the spirit of the Horizon Project reports, we don’t stop here; we continue exploring the numerous resources available to us to learn more about the Internet of Everything and its potential to combine people, process, data, and things in ways that further support learning innovations, as described in Cisco’s brief “Education and The Internet of Everything” video. This ultimately reminds us that reading Horizon Project reports is the beginning, not the end, of an important process in our own lifelong-learning efforts; what matters most is what we do with the information and inspiration these reports consistently provide on educational technology, its key trends, and the challenges we face in the dynamic world of training-teaching-learning.
Report co-authors Samantha Adams Becker, Alex Freeman, and Victoria Estrada go far beyond simply describing makerspaces (learning spaces where people, technology, and learning interact in creatively dynamic and innovative ways) and wearable technology (tech tools that can be worn to support learning and a variety of other endeavors). At the beginning of the makerspaces section of the 2015 Higher Education Edition, they remind us we are seeing a significant “shift in what types of skillsets have real, applicable value in a rapidly advancing world. In this landscape, creativity, design, and engineering are making their way to the forefront of educational consideration…” (p. 40).
As we think through the need for and repercussions of developing new skillsets, we see that overtly working to develop the skills to effectively incorporate makerspaces and wearable technology into our training-teaching-learning endeavors is an often-overlooked part of our ever-evolving learning landscape. It’s not enough for us to simply enter a makerspace or put on the latest piece of wearable technology; we actually need and benefit from guidance in what these developments offer us and, more importantly, how we may have to rethink our approach to training-teaching-learning if we’re going to effectively incorporate them into our most stimulating and productive lifelong-learning efforts. Makerspaces and wearable technology, after all, have the potential to move us further away from a focus on lecture-based learning and closer to creatively-engaging experiential learning opportunities.
Touring the Autodesk makerspaces on Pier 9 in San Francisco (July 2014)
Walking into Autodesk’s high-tech makerspaces here in San Francisco several months ago with a colleague who had arranged for us to join a tour of the facilities, I was initially struck by the numerous unfamiliar tools on display and in use by those using the space. Although familiar with the expanding use of makerspaces in libraries, I had not yet had the opportunity to use a makerspace as a learning space. It didn’t take long for those of us on that Autodesk tour to move past the state-of-awe stage; through impromptu conversations with artist-learner-makers who were incorporating 3D printers, lasercutters, and other high-tech tools into their own learning and creative-production efforts, we began to understand what an engaging approach to learning and collaboration these spaces foster—something that would not have been so obvious and engaging without the guidance of Mark Gabriel, the Autodesk rep who was serving as an Autodesk intern when we were onsite. Our own learning-about-learning experience was, furthermore, tremendously supported by our onsite learning colleagues—the artists and others who contributed to our wonderful informal-learning experience by helping us take the first steps toward raising our own skill levels in ways that may eventually lead us to more active engagement in makerspaces wherever we encounter them.
There were the inevitable and completely predictable mainstream media stories and blog posts about how it had been clear that Google Glass was never going to work, and I was briefly among those who saw that two-to-three-year adoption-horizon rapidly slipping away (as horizons so often do in the extremely volatile world of ed-tech developments where today’s snapshot can unexpectedly fade, only to be restored later by additional Black Swan developments that make the improbably suddenly so obviously real). There were, however, new wearable-tech announcements within days of the announcement that Glass was being withdrawn, and a glance at the Tech Times website shows that wearable technology is not going to disappear in training-teaching-learning or other endeavors anytime soon.
Our eLearning Guild colleague David Kelly, in fact, was quick to point out intriguing ways in which Glass, even at this point, can be seen as a success because of the ways it “opened minds” and “explored important questions”—which brings to our attention the most important skillset we need to continue developing: the skillset which helps us to look beyond the momentary successes and setbacks, the changes in specific technologies’ placement within one-year, two-to-three-year, and four-to-five-year adoption horizons, so we’re not completely flummoxed when a black swan lands in our learning nests.
Remaining in the realm of solvable challenges, we join the report co-authors in a brief survey of efforts to improve digital literacy. They begin by noting that “[l]ack of consensus on what comprises digital literacy is impeding many colleges and universities from formulating adequate policies and programs that address these challenges”—a failing that is equally prevalent in many other learning environments, including workplace learning and performance (staff training)—and point out that “[c]urrent definitions of literacy only account for the gaining of new knowledge, skills, and attitudes, but do not include the deeper components of intention, reflection, and generativity” (p. 24). But they don’t just leave us at that juncture where need and confusion intersect; they take us to “20 Things Educators Need to Know About Digital Literacy Skills” (from Innovation Excellence) and the “Jisc Developing Digital Literacies Infokit” as points for departure for addressing the challenge. The Public Library Association division of the American Library Association offers links to additional digital literacy resources for those interested in going beyond what the 2015 Higher Education Edition offers.
When we follow the report into the area of personalized learning, we find ourselves immersed in the intriguing world of learning designed to “enable students to determine the strategy and pace at which they learn”—learning opportunities that support the learning process at an individual learner’s own pace: “The goal is to give the student the flexibility to make…learning as effective and efficient as possible” (p. 27). Those already familiar with self-paced learning in settings ranging from the online staff training efforts to the flexible learning environments provided by connectivist MOOCs will find themselves on familiar ground here, and those wanting to become more familiar with the challenge and possible solutions can follow the report links to “Personalized Learning Changes Everything,” from the University of Maine at Presque Island, and Mike Keppell’s engaging “Personalised Learning Strategies for Higher Education” article that explores interrelated topics ranging from “learning in ubiquitous spaces” to “personalized learning strategies.”
Moving through the final three challenges (teaching complex thinking, working with competing models of education, and finding ways to effectively reward teaching), we find ourselves in areas interwoven with other topics covered in the report. We can’t, for example, explore competing models of education/learning without thinking about how we try to transform the formal-and-informal conversation from an either-or proposition into an and-and proposition. When we seek ways to effectively reward teaching, we find ourselves struggling to even define what “exemplary teaching” is: lecturing, facilitating learning in ways that encourage learner-centric approaches, guiding learners to a level of proficiency that allows them to pass competency-based tests, or a combination of these and additional learning goals and objectives we are still struggling to define within our various learning sandboxes?
One of the many strengths of the Horizon Project reports is that they help us focus on these challenges and, in the process of fostering that level of attention, encourage us to actively participate in the creation of effective, creative responses to these and other challenges to which curious, dedicated, innovative trainer-teacher-learners are drawn.
Horizon Project reports, for more than a decade, have been guiding us through what is changing and what remains consistent in our learning landscape; the flagship Higher Education Edition, which currently is accompanied by K-12, Library and Museum editions, consistently helps us identify and become familiar with key trends that are “accelerating technology adoption in higher education”—and, I continue to maintain, in many other parts of our overall lifelong-learning landscape.
Reading through the latest Key Trends section confirms, among other ideas, that collaboration is a common thread weaving the trends into a cohesive tapestry of ed-tech developments. We see, through the report, that key trends (in addition to an increasing use of blended learning and significant amounts of attention given to redesigning learning spaces) include advancing cultures of change and innovation; increasing cross-institution collaboration; a growing focus on measuring learning; and the proliferation of open educational resources—OERs. And the 2015 Higher Education Edition includes plenty of examples to help us see how we can adapt, in our own learning environments, what our more adventurous colleagues are already doing.
As we move into the mid-term trends—those “driving ed tech adoption in higher education for three to five years”—we turn our attention to the growing focus on measuring learning (think learning analytics) and the proliferation of open educational resources. With the growing focus on measuring learning, we are reminded, “The goal is to build better pedagogies, empower students to take an active part in their learning, target at-risk student populations, and assess factors affecting completion and student success” (p. 12); among the numerous first-rate resources cited in the 2015 Higher Education Edition are the “Code of Practice for Learning Analytics” prepared by Niall Sclater for Jisc, and records from the Asilomar Conference (here in California) that was designed to “inform the ethical use of data and technology in learning research” through development of six principals (“respect for the rights of learners, beneficence, justice, openness, the humanity of learning, and continuous consideration”). Turning to the trend toward increasing use of open educational resources, we see how they represent “a broad variety of digital content, including full courses, course materials, modules, textbooks, videos, tests, software, and any other means of conveying knowledge” (p. 14). Among the open textbook projects receiving attention here are Rice University’s OpenStax College and College Open Textbooks; massive open online courses (MOOCs) and the North-West OER Network also receive much-justified attention for their ongoing collaborative and open approaches to learning.
The Key Trends section of the report concludes with the two intriguing and fruitful short-term trends—those “driving ed tech adoption in higher education [and elsewhere] for the next one to two years”: increasing use of blended learning and redesigning learning spaces. “[B]lended learning—the combination of online and face-to-face instruction—is a model currently being explored by many higher educational institutions” (p. 17) and some of us who work in other learning environments, as we’re reminded through a link to a blended-learning case study (written by Carrie Schulz, Jessica Vargas, and Anna Lohaus) from Rollins University. And changes in pedagogical approaches themselves are driving the need to re-examine and redesign our learning spaces: “A student-centered approach to education has taken root, prompting many higher education professionals to rethink how learning spaces should be configured,” the report co-authors confirm (p. 18). If, for example, we are interested in having the learner at the center of the learning process, we’re going to have to rework the numerous lecture halls that continue to place the focus on learning facilitators. The FLEXspace interactive OER database and the Learning Spaces Collaboratory are among the wonderful resources cited for those of us interested in diving much more deeply into the world of learning-space redesign, and Tom Haymes’Idea Spaces presentation provides additional food for thought while also serving as an example of how we can create online content in a way that creates its own type of learning space—the website itself.
Simply compiling the endnotes for the report is a magnificent effort in collaboration, report lead writer Samantha Adams Becker explained via a recent email exchange: “Citations are split across three writers/researchers on the NMC team [Becker, Alex Freeman, and Victoria Estrada as co-authors]. Each of us is responsible for writing researching six of the 18 topics in the report. We have a rule to never write anything editorial or in our own opinion—we must back everything up with sources—hence the giant list of citations. We then review each other’s sections and provide feedback for improvement and check each other’s citations. We also have a research manager [Michele Cummins] who finds the further readings for each section, and I check that work as well. So while there are three writers of the report [supported by editor/Horizon Project founder Larry Johnson and Johnson’s co-principal investigator, Malcolm Brown], we meet weekly to critique each other’s work and then turn in revised drafts. I then compile all of our revised drafts into a master document and go over the entire report with a fine-toothed comb, editing for voice, cohesion, etc.”
The results are stimulating discussions of six key trends, six key challenges, and six technological developments expected to “inform policy, leadership, and practice at all levels impacting universities and colleges” in ways that have repercussions for any of us involved in training-teaching-learning within the ever-expanding lifelong learning landscape we inhabit.
What all of this means to those of us engaged in lifelong learning efforts will be explored more deeply in the remaining articles in this series of posts. In the meantime, those interested in playing a more active role in the Horizon Report process that many of us currently treasure are encouraged to complete the online application form.
Celebrating Life. Making positive connections and collaborating with people from around the world. Living everyday with positive energy, possibility, passion and peace of mind. Learning from a School Counsellor lens. I'm not a Counsellor because I want to make a living. I am a Counsellor because I want to make a difference. Gratitude for ETMOOC roots.